Relationships / Sex / Social issues

International Day of the Girl: Canadian Teens Usher in Sexual Consent Culture

"Let's talk about it!" | Photo: CBC

“Let’s talk about it!” | Photo: CBC

They are three young women rocking Canadian feminism, eagerly taking the movement into its next wave: besties and change-makers Lia Valente and Tessa Hill who are remaking the Ontario Sex-Ed curriculum; and badass social organizer Alexi Halket, founder of Crop Top Day, which defied high school dress codes that corner girls into the role of temptress.

For young women coming of age today, the culture of consent of Yes Means Yes —is critical. After all, they grew up in the era of the high profile sexual assaults and tragic deaths of Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd, the sexual assault charges and case against Jian Ghomeshi, the culture of FHRITP, the infamy of rape chants on Canadian university campuses (looking at you,  SMU and UBC), and high-profile sexual harassment and assault cases (ahem, Dal’s Dentistry School and the UofO).

Yet as Halket, Valente, Hill and their peers grow into womanhood, they are both taught by mainstream society to see their bodies as objects of temptation and to be responsible for the insatiable, uncontrollable desire of boys and men (which is a terrible indictment of men, btw).  It’s a heavy burden to carry.  And it’s a burden that Hill, Valente and Halket reject and refuse to shoulder.

As Carla Lucchetta argues for TVO, “School protests are on the rise in Ontario – and girls are leading the charge.”

Hill, Valente and Halket are part of a movement of young women who aren’t afraid to use “feminist” to describe themselves and who are leveraging the power of social media to reach out and be heard like never before.  Consider Project Slut, headed up by Kerin John, Erin Dixon and Andy Villanueva, three girls who were then in their senior year at Central Tech in Toronto, which sought to reclaim and rehabilitate “sluts” for their wardrobe choices.  Or Laura Anderson in London, Ontario, who was told not to “dress skanky,” by her school principal for wearing ripped jeans and responded with #mybodymybusiness. Or Raphaelle Lalonde and her peers at FACE school in Montreal, sent home with letters chastising them for their choice of dress.

Photo: @rachel_venneri, Twitter

Photo: @rachel_venneri, Twitter

Ahead of  the International Day of the Girl on Sunday, we celebrate Hill, Valente, Halket and the thousands of girls like them who are remaking the world in their image, changing the way in which we think about girls’ sexuality and the way we think about women’s bodies.

A world in which it is they who call the shots.


THE CHANGE-MAKERS: LIA VALENTE AND TESSA HILL 

Lia Valente and Tessa Hill weren’t even born when the Ontario Sex-Ed curriculum was last updated in 1998.

So for two teen girls who were hit hard by headlines of the Steubenville rape case which would figure prominently in their film Allegedly it was important to find out what this new curriculum would include.

Tessa Hill (left) and Lia Valente (right)

Tessa Hill (left) and Lia Valente (right)

As it turned out, the curriculum wouldn’t include nearly as much as they thought it might. After a meeting of their school’s Queer Street Alliance, the pair learned that LGBTQ issues or even consent wouldn’t be covered in the new health curriculum. That wasn’t good enough to the two then-13 year olds.

Armed with a vision for change, Valente and Hill want to change our culture from one that believes that “No Means No,” to “Yes Means Yes.”

And given that only one in three Canadians actually understands what sexual consent means, it’s clear that we – not just our children – are in desperate need of an education.

It was this shortcoming that prompted Hill and Valente to work together to form We Give Consent, a social media campaign complete with a Change.org petition, that sought to clinch a curriculum “that speaks to our lives and helps to make us safer.”

It earned them the attention of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Hill (left) and Valente (right), with Premier Kathleen Wynne (centre). Photo: Toronto Sun/Antonella Artuso

Hill (left) and Valente (right), with Premier Kathleen Wynne (centre). Photo: Toronto Sun/Antonella Artuso

In late January, Wynne met with Hill and Valente. And enacted the changes demanded by the girls.

“Using your voice is so important,” says Hill. “I’m happy to see how far we’ve come,” continues Valente. “But rape culture still affects our day-to-day lives as young girls in Toronto.”

Read more about Lia Valente and Tessa Hill.


THE RULE-BREAKER: ALEXI HALKET

Is this feminism, or a breach of the rules, screams the subheadline in the UK’s Mirror.

Alexi Halket, fierce femme in the making broke dress-code rules at her Etobicoke secondary school, turning the conversation about how we talk about women and dress on its head, sending many into fits of pearl-clutching.

Alexi Halket. Vince Talotta/Toronto Star/Getty

Alexi Halket. Vince Talotta/Toronto Star/Getty

“School dress codes teach female students that their bodies are a problem and they have to cover up,” says Halket. “Sending girls home because what they’re wearing is “disrupting” the learning of their peers, especially males, is sending the message that a male’s education is more important than a female’s.”

When she was told her crop top looked too much like a sports bra, Halket went home and with the support of friends, took to Facebook and Twitter, sparking #CropTopDay, a spontaneous movement that saw youth of all gender identities and sexualities reject the old adage that a woman was ‘asking for it’ because of what she wore.

“I’m very proud of them for talking about what they value,” school principal Rob MacKinnon said to The Huffington Post. Though he appears to have remained steadfast in maintaining a professional environment, kudos to him for refusing to crack down and encouraging dialogue in the matter.

Alexi Halket.

Alexi Halket with friends and supporters. Photo: The Star

“This issue encompasses much more than dress codes, including a woman’s right to breastfeed in public,” Halket told MTV. “All of these actions and behaviours by women are deemed inappropriate and offensive, and I wanted to ask WHY.”

At eighteen years of age, Halket is already turning received knowledge on its head, asking all the right questions about why we objectify women’s bodie more rules and making this a safer world for all of us.

Read more about Alexi Halket.


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Rape Culture: What We Really Learn on University Campuses

It starts here, it ends here: A call to action against rape culture on campus

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